Marching in for Spring Concerts; ARTS IN BRIEF

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The closure of Birmingham Hippodrome for its major redevelopment scheme means that Welsh National Opera will be switching to concert performances at Symphony Hall for its spring visit to Birmingham in March.

The three operas it is bringing are new productions of Cosi fan tutte (March 6), Turandot - with Dennis O'Neill - on March 8 and The Barber of Seville on March 11.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is launching its own January sale on Saturday.

For just one week, until January 22, it will be possible to buy tickets for the remaining six months of the orchestra's Symphony Hall season at half price.

It means that tickets can be bought for as little as pounds 3. Attractions between now and June include appearances by superstar counter tenor Andreas Scholl, violinist Tasmin Little, pianist Imogen Cooper and cellist Lynn Harrell.

In March Sir Simon Rattle conducts four world premieres to round off his ten-year Towards the Millennium project, and CBSO music director Sakari Oramo returns in April and May to direct a series of concerts combining Prokofiev's Piano Concertos with music by Sibelius and contemporary Finnish composers Sariaho, Kokkonen, Rautavaara and Kaipainen. So, does the ticket sale indicate that the boom times are over for the CBSO?

"To be honest ticket sales have been declining at ever so gentle a gradient for some years now, and one of my tasks is to try and reverse that decline," said chief executive Stephen Maddock.

"This is a promotional thing and quite obviously we wouldn't be doing it if we had sold all the tickets. But the overall picture is pretty similar to last year.

"The difference between best-selling and worst-selling concerts is not that great. We have some sell-outs, then there are others around 80-85 per cent, and the worst are probably 55-60 per cent. So it's not a large spread from some being full and some being empty." The four concerts in March containing specially commissioned pieces, by Hans Werner Henze, Magnus Lindberg, Judith Weir and Simon Holt, are apparently selling quite well - better than some concerts from the later decades of Towards the Millennium.

"The really good news about the new pieces is that they're all finished, which must be a unique strike-rate for something like this," Stephen Maddock said. "The Lindberg, which was the one I was worried might not be ready in time, was finished this week."

All four pieces are also now complete with titles - Gran Duo (Lindberg, March 9), We are Shadows (Weir, March 15) The Tempest (Henze, March 30) and Sunrise Yellow Noise (Holt, March 30). …